TAs in Your Teaching Team

Guidelines for Setting Up Large-Class-Teaching with TAs

  1. Think broadly about training the teaching team.
  2. Recognize different stages of development among TAs.
  3. Set forth a clear organizational structure.
  4. Select and train TAs.
  5. Communicate expectations clearly.
  6. Evaluate teamwork throughout the semester.
  7. Model teamwork and professional behavior.

1. Think broadly about training the teaching team. Define teaching broadly to include any interaction with students in the context of the course. TAs often think of “teaching” as standing up and lecturing. However, the teaching work of a TA involves peer facilitation in work with small groups, organizing the class, dealing with discipline in the classroom, grading papers, responding to questions in office hours, and handling email. Stress to your TAs that all work involving the course is a facet of teaching.
2. Recognize different stages of development among TAs. Consider preparedness when making TA assignments. Those with prior experience can handle more responsibilities than new TAs. Recognize that your TAs need different levels of guidance, supervision, and help. Experienced TAs can handle a lecture while new TAs are often uncomfortable speaking before a small group. Aside from teaching experience, be sensitive to age, gender, race, and ethnicity.
3. Set forth a clear organizational structure. Decisions with respect to organization and structure depend on departmental specifics, available resources, functions assigned to TAs, and faculty decisions respecting course concerns. Usually TAs share class responsibilities with the faculty member. They assist with grading, organizing, class materials, office visits, student e-mail, proctoring, peer facilitation, coordinating group work, supervising lab work, small-section discussions, facilitating break out sections and other problem-solving activities.
4. Select and train TAs. Selection and training of TAs is important in small and large classes alike. No matter what the organizational model and which duties are assigned to whom, general criteria for TA selection are:

  • Competence and direct experience with course content

  • Ability to work in a team and at different levels

  • Ability to communicate with students

  • Diversity of staff

  • Willingness to participate in meetings, training, and weekly discussions with the instructors

Per-semester training and weekly meetings should provide TAs with details about the syllabus, class activities, student progress, and grading issues.

A principal focus of TA training should be evaluating student work. A grading plan should be in place before the semester starts. A grading rubric is advisable. Train TAs in the grading rubric for the course with mock up student work.

5. Communicate expectations clearly. The high expectations you set for your course will help TAs understand that you are serious about your work. Involve the teaching team in setting goals so all feel like part of the team and that you consider their needs.

Alleviate anxiety attending mastery of course content. Assure your TAs that you appreciate their skills and that they have the necessary expertise. Make it clear that you expect development and refinement over the course of their teaching assistantships.

If you have several TAs and undergraduate peer facilitators, a clear org chart helps clarify levels of responsibility and improves communication. Name a team coordinator (a TA with more experience) who will be the main contact person between you and the entire team. Pass information to the team coordinator whose responsibility is to deliver the information to the entire team—and to receive information from the entire team.

Setup a password-protected Wiki for your teaching team. Post scoring rubrics for exams, quizzes, homework and other graded assignments. Post at least one assignment that was graded by you, so your TAs have a model. Explain your rationale for each step of the grading rubric. In the event you do not use a grading rubric, then a detailed explanation of your thinking when you grade an assignment is a must. Invite TAs to ask questions and post their own reasoning. Maintain a dialog to help the entire team, and especially you (the faculty), to learn from present experience and improve your work with future teaching teams. Keep the same Wiki alive over many semesters. Improve it.

6. Evaluate teamwork throughout the semester. Feedback should be an ongoing part of teaching. Give it and take it. Ask everyone to encourage feedback from students. Brainstorm pathways around obstacles and to achieving teaching goals. Your team will respond better if you stress developing more than performing—learning more than knowing.

7. Model teamwork and professional behavior. Present your teaching team to students on the first day of class. Their names and contact information should be in the course syllabus. Involve all team members from the first day, and ensure that students understand that you maintain a close working relationship with your teaching team and that you meet regularly.

Clear communication with TAs is essential in teaching large classes. Develop and maintain team cohesion in weekly meetings. To prevent confusion, it is important that students hear the same message from every member of the teaching team. Offbeat TAs get students out-of-step.